Thursday, 16 January 2014

My name is Big Brother, but you can call me Big

 Science, on the whole, is morally neutral. It can be used for good or evil. The same goes for many technologies, which is why you will sometimes find a new piece of technology that can engage a really uncomfortable bit of mental discomfort when on the one hand it is extremely attractive - I want it, and I want it now - yet on the other hand it has really scary and potentially nasty implications.

Just such a piece of technology is NameTag, one of the products of Facial Network. First working on Google Glass, the search company's ubergeek specs, NameTag can also be expected soonish as an app for your favourite phone.

What Name Tag does is spot people in the camera's visual field and tries to identify them - from social networks, online stuff and a database of criminal history. So, you just look at someone (or look at them through your phone if you aren't a Glassnerd) and you find out who they are, (assuming it works) not to mention if they are registered as not very nice. 

As I say, I can think of all kinds of good reasons why I want this. I'm rubbish at putting names to faces, and having a little prompt that reminds who people at a meeting are would be great. And just walking through the streets, identifying people would give a wonderful sense of omniscience. And as the makers point out:
“I believe that this will make online dating and offline social interactions much safer and give us a far better understanding of the people around us,” said NameTag’s creator Kevin Alan Tussy. “It’s much easier to meet interesting new people when we can simply look at someone, see their Facebook, review their LinkedIn page or maybe even see their dating site profile. Often we were interacting with people blindly or not interacting at all. NameTag on Google Glass can change all that.”
However, you don't have to be paranoid to see all sorts of negative possible uses of this technology. While you can register as not wanting to be identified, it has the potential not only for invasion of privacy, but sinister manipulation of knowledge about an apparent stranger. Apparently Google is not currently supporting facial recognition on Glass, and it really isn't surprising.

So there we have it. The technology will exist. It will inevitably be used by some, whether or not it is made commercially available. Do we take the 'bad people will find a way to use it anyway, so we might as well all have it' approach, or the 'this feels wrong, let's ban it on principle' approach? It really is disturbing, because I absolutely understand the negatives... but I'd still like to have it myself.

O tempora, O mores.

See it in action:

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